US President George Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday was historic in many ways -- his first to a Democrat-controlled Congress, the first ever to a female Speaker of the House, maybe even his most conciliatory -- but it was conspicuously free of new ideas.
Late last year, observers around the world expected a change in direction from the American commander-in-chief, especially since a newly-elected Congress opposed to his Iraq policy threatens to make him a lame duck for his last two years in office. But the centerpiece of his address on Tuesday was a stubborn escalation of the war in Iraq -- the deployment of 22,000 more troops to help stabilize Baghdad and the Anbar province.
"This is a ping-pong game with American lives," said US Senator Chuck Hagel one day after the speech. Hagel is the only Republican on the Senate's foreign relations committee to join 11 Democrats in voting to condemn Bush's escalation plan. "No president of the United States can sustain a foreign policy or a war policy without the sustained support of the American people," he said.
The Senators' resolution was a formal exercise -- no one in Congress can change the administration's direction in the war -- but it shows an erosion of support for Bush among Republicans as well as Democrats.
German papers across the political spectrum showed the same skepticism Thursday. They notice a new modesty in Bush's speech, as well as a minor flip-flop in his call for greener energy. But most wonder whether the US president knows what he's up against -- whether in Iraq or in the campaign against a warming planet.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"Bush has full faith in his Iraq strategy, and he's determined to see it through in the face of all opposition. At the same time, he's a prisoner of his own policies, as the speech to Congress showed. His attempt to be seen to be touting a popular idea -- protecting the climate -- will fail. He's said that Iraq is a decisive battlefield in the war for the security of the United States too often to pretend that something else is now more important. Bush will remain, for the rest of his term, a one-issue President.
"The new focus on climate change has been imposed on Bush by serious evidence of global warming in the United States. It's also apparent that he's trying to jump on a bandwagon in order to distract from his failure in Iraq ... The most powerful man in the world no longer controls the political agenda in the United States."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"(The American people) now see that the war in Iraq was not only started under false pretenses but also mishandled, and that Bush has no fresh ideas. Polls show that two-thirds of the voters agree with the Democrat-controlled Congress on a new direction in Iraq. That's a clear vote of no-confidence. In a parliamentary system like Germany's, it would be time for the leader to go. But Americans have to hold out for two more years."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"If Bush doesn't want to spend the last two years of his term as a lame duck, he needs to make at least a small concession to the Democratic majority in Congress. That's exactly what he's trying to do (with his green-energy proposal). It's doubtful whether America's salvation will be found in ethanol ... However, it's hard to argue with the cautious introduction of financial incentives and government guidelines, provided those responsible (for global warming) are made to shoulder the burden of the social costs of high energy consumption."
The left-wing Berliner Zeitung argues:
"Although he still can't bring himself to reduce CO2 emissions through government regulation, Bush has at least signalled ... that he's taking the subject more seriously. But in fact he has no other choice. In the last few months, public opinion on climate change in the United States has changed so drastically that it's now smart for Bush to join the trend. Even the oil giant Exxon-Mobil recently called for a limit on CO2 emissions.
"(Regarding Iraq) his basic attitude is unchanged. A withdrawal won't happen under his watch. Since the president now has to worry more about his place in history rather than the next election, he'll try to rescue his war ... He won't be swayed from this course -- neither by the new majority in Congress, nor his poor standing in the polls, nor by the state of the nation."
-- Michael Scott Moore, 12:30pm CET